Forty Years Ago Happens Now

It happened a day ago. No. It happened 20 minutes ago. No. It happened more than 40 years ago.

And yet, it is happening now.

Here’s the deal. I believe in ministry—my word, make it in living for anyone—pastoral care and presence are invaluable…even more, necessary. It’s not, though, only a pastor helping a church member. It can be the reverse.

THAT’S what happened just now. And perhaps 42 years ago.

I received a phone call from F. Don Collins. He is a member of Lakewood United Church of Christ in Lakewood, Colorado, still is. I served their church family for 7 years, starting in 1973. Don and Charlene [God rest her soul] adopted two girls, Colette and Candy. Colette, now in her late 50’s, cares for her father, who lives on Arkansas Avenue in Lakewood. A street I won’t forget.

Back to March of 1976. My best friend was Steven Ullmann, a resident of Chicago. His wife, Judi, was my wife Nancy’s best friend, both when they met, students at the University of Chicago. Steve—I called him Ullmann…always…was a financial consultant. He was also the most adventuring guy I ever knew. The for instance is he wanted to ski. He came to Lakewood and took my wife and yours truly skiing. I was an expert on the bunny hill. Ullmann rented skis, took his first lessons 10-noon. Met us for lunch, and I’ll be, he said, “Miller, come on, the blue slopes.”

“What? Ullmann, even the green slopes are a challenge; I’m still at the snow plow advanced stage.” He grabbed me, pushed me on the frickin’ chair lift. Amazing. I got off without crashing into another person. Ullmann took off like he was the teacher. It was great. I even made it. Hey, a challenge is a challenge. We skied blue the rest of the day. And, believe it “blue” had nothing to do with shading on my skin from falling.

We got home—oh, Ullmann wanted it to be Christmas for Matthew and Andrew, our two sons. Even in March. So, before he went to the Denver Airport, he took them to Target, gave each of them a cart and said, “Guys, meet you at Cashier One.” Matthew and Andrew didn’t complain. They knew where the games and athletic equipment were. Yessirree.

Friday night we had a great meal, late Friday I took Ullmann to the airport.

Saturday morning Nancy and I had a mixed doubles game with dear friends. [I figure only dear friends don’t keep score.]

As I left the parsonage our phone rang, a landline then. I returned to the phone, answered to the question, “Is this Reverend Mark Miller?”

I said it was.

Silence, staggered breathing, “Reverend Miller? Steven Ullmann died this morning. He had a brain aneurism playing basketball was dead before he hit the floor.”

Beyond shock and pain and broken hearts. That was Saturday. Nancy went to Chicago immediately to be with Judi. I had to lead worship the next morning. I barely got through the sermon, broke down in tears and explained to the dearest friends in the world as church members, what had happened.

As I recessed up the aisle during the closing hymn, there he stood. F. Donald Collins. He stood and waited. Tears brushed from his cheeks. He always calls me “Rev.” He put his arms around me, literally kept me from collapsing; stood there until everyone shared their love with me. I will never forget that. Such an incredible pastoral care and presence.

Thirty minutes ago Don called to get my address because he purchased a novel. He’s become Tricia Gleason’s strongest fan. At first I didn’t recognize his voice. He spoke haltingly and took breaths between sentences. He no longer plays golf. Still grieves the loss of Charlene. But, thank God Colette cares for him.

I love F. Don Collins forever. He’s the only guy who calls me “Rev.” That’s a link with him and me, even though when others say that name I think of a car engine! Not with Don.

So, friends. Pastoral care, pastoral presence. I can list those in my life who have brought that and will continue to do so. I need fingers and toes and more names than that.

How about you? How about you? Care. Understand. Accept. Forgive. Love. I’m with Don forever and love him forever. He responded, spoken clearly, “Rev? I’m that way about you.”

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Two For The Price Of One

I got upset with someone I don’t know and will never see again. On an airplane. She and her husband were going to Chicago.

We visited. I asked about her world and her husband’s. Basic. She is very proud of her husband and their two Junior High School kids. Nothing more.

I then asked, “What about you?”

She muted, looked down, muffled a cough with both hands, almost whispered, “I’m just a housewife.”

Closed her eyes.

I waited.

She looked at me (finally), a slight smile, a stronger voice, “Guess that’s something.”

“Ma’am, so much more than something. For you and your family that’s everything…please know the great value in your vocation in being a housewife. The word ‘just’ has no value. Good for you for caring for your home and family. Home-maker is essential.”

On with the day…as often as possible don’t use “ just” and know being a home caretaker…ah, the joy and value…early on, I loved driving my sons to their piano lessons. Plus, I was a pretty good car pool driver.

A second blog for today—ideas happen in the car dealer waiting room!

I love the writing of Harlan Coben. In the novel Don’t Let Go, this is said,

“There are good days and bad days. I look at each day as good if you do the right thing.”

To me, MHM here, that is so very profound, deep and true. Most of us look at the results to verify our feelings or maybe more, justify them. So much better to make the results secondary. Such good medicine to keep depression from clawing us in a pine box. Sure, results can mess with us. But stand on your goodness and courage and heart and values ultimately. Do the right thing.

End of homiletic notions for today

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Life Matters; Then It Doesn’t

I remember it clearly, even though memory vacates too often lately. Name and venue unimportant. It really is. The call came, “Mark, please get here as soon as you can.”

Nothing more, but a lot less. She was in chalk-white shock. Took me in the garage. Her spouse sat in the passenger front seat. Had on his seat belt. I looked twice, didn’t really need to. He was dead. By his own decision.

Another time, again no place or name necessary. All I could see was his wrist watch. The sidewalk had smashed it but was still on his wrist. He felt nothing. Death, jumping from a high building, does that.


No, I won’t go there, let alone stay there. As far as I know I’ve only kept one person from that decision and it was completely accidental. The call was to tell me farewell. I hardly heard her because of some personal circumstance. Actually hung up without any good-bye. Leaned later my abruptness made her so mad—make that furious—she decided to not end her life. I was lucky, maybe the only time that my self-focus, which is not as rare as I’d wish over the decades, had benefit and purpose.

I know, then I don’t. I can only tell you that two deaths continue to haunt me. The deaths of Robin William and Whitney Houston. I so valued each of them. I loved the energy and whacky creativity of Williams and Houston’s voice…oh, my, as helpful to me as Celine Dion. What I know when I think of people for whom life matters to me, Williams and Houston are right there.

Why all this? Because I just read an article that has impacted me. Because I know people now who find living not the best option. Perhaps you do, too.

This article says that suicide isn’t always because of failing mental health, unstoppable fatal disease [I do know a valued friend who battled ALS and had to stop his suffering. The building was high enough.] and other terminating realities. The article says something very profound. I don’t want to block what this lady writes. I don’t know her. That matters not. What she says brings life and God, from anyone’s consideration, into a very clear focus. I link it with an invitation. It’s helped me this morning. And I trust unto God it will help you. No matter how strong or weak your pulse. God Bless each of us…no matter what.

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Adverbs Didn’t Win

Not sure how to entitle this blog, but it urges to be written.

I love writing. Had never thought of writing a novel, but friends provided encouragement to take a 5-day class on fiction novel writing. The class started the world of Tricia Gleason, who now is about to complete her 8th adventure, although in “Life Without Arms” spending the first year being a minister and fishing guide raising her armless son is daunting in the best of circumstances.

About 2 weeks ago I finished a novel by David Baldacci, one of my favorite novelists. When I finished I asked myself why he’s so appealing. It hit me. He “puts me in touch with the feelings of the person speaking.” I took the next question to heart, “Why is that?” I discovered it was his world of adverbs! He didn’t write, “He said…” No. He wrote, “He said ruefully.” THAT told me his feelings.

I then went through the Baldacci novel [I’m pretty sure this isn’t plagiarism!] and noted the more helpful adverbs.

I then wrote to a really good friend and my fine, fine novel-writing-teacher, Jim Thayer [I took classes from him in Seattle at the UW.]. Told him about my discovery.

This morning he responded and could not have been more helpful, citing others to confirm his point: “To spend time creating an adverb, even using them indicates weak writing. They aren’t necessary. The fact that someone said something is indicative it has intention.”

I cannot thank Jim enough. So, I will not rewrite the current Tricia Gleason novel, “Sparkling Waters,” which is almost completed. Am getting wonderful help for Tricia and Nathan [her husband] in raising Caleb [their armless son], for which my gratitude cannot be full enough. My full gratitude to Jessica Cox and David Collins.

So, I will do my best at editing and completing the novel, which does end [a sneak tease] with a shocking conclusion as Nathan and Tricia celebrate their second pregnancy. Stay tuned. I share that with you hopefully. Nah, correction! I share that with you. “Stay tuned” is adequate. Yes?

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The Weekend, A World of Surprises

Moments of Joy and Surprises, a weekend in Chicago

The past three days have been celebrations upon celebration, topped with a joyous surprise.

Went to Chicago and the gold-star moments started:

Visited with John and Lydia Thomas, two beautiful friends. They live on the “south side,” which is okay, near the University of Chicago. Note on “south side” shortly. John and I developed a wonderful friendship during my Conference Ministry when he was our denomination’s General Minister and President. His ‘pastoral spirit’ helped me through my mother’s death and some of the [inevitable] challenges of working with other clergy. Sigh.

The reason I noted ‘south side’ is John and Lydia are supportive of the Chicago White Sox. That’s like, if this were football they’d root more for the Oakland Raiders than my beloved Broncos.

Now to the ‘north side.” Primary purpose for visiting Chicago was to celebrate my granddaughter’s 8th grade graduation. This August she’ll begin at New Trier High School, a terrific school. A couple of ‘foci moments.”

One, I was introduced to Laura’s new best friend, Percy. How lovely! This picture tells how beautiful both are:

The second ‘primary reason’ for visiting was to share wonderful time with Matthew. He’s finished with his high school teaching classes. On Saturday the three of us [we left Percy home, of course] went to the ‘north side’ team, my BELOVED CHICAGO CUBS. They won! During which John texted me to bewail his beloved White Sox, in miserable losses for most of the season, had just made 3 errors by the fifth inning. No, they weren’t playing each other! The Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates, and were not good hosts, beating the Pirates. [“Joanne Brown, did you note that?” She’s an unrepentant fan of the Pirates and the Steelers…I forget their professional hockey team, but I’m sure before this ink is dry she will remind me—wink!]

The picture is our evidence this narrative is not fiction. We had great seats and there’s no way I couldn’t eat peanuts during the game. Hey, some principles never should be compromised.

The entire Chicago visit Diane shared that Copper, our Yellow Lab, was not happy his Daddy was gone. He wouldn’t stay in our bedroom, but would stay in my home office, and more than often would go to the door into the garage, wondering when it would open. I got home this afternoon and it was a great reunion with all three of our “kids.” I was exhausted…important to know rooting for the Cubs takes energy—so after wrestling and jumping around, Mr. Copper and I had nap time:

Then, a “blow-me-away” moment when the routine became beyond special. I arrived in Austin, no luggage check, so walked to the area where parking lot bus shuttles waited. I could see my Parking Spot bus down about 4 buses. The driver saw me and waved. I considered that his simple greeting…another customer. Politeness is a good thing.

As I got close to him, he smiled, then said, “Did you catch any fish?”


I had forgotten his name was Mario Romo [the bail-out is I know how to read nametags.] Fish?

He said, “I remember you…you are our fishing customer. And I know you are a priest. So I ask, any fish?”

I explained my Chicago trip and smiled, “Mario, you are incredible. HOW did you remember me?”

He only smiled and opened his hands.

As I left, he put my bag and backpack by my car. He smiled like there was no tomorrow. A joyous moment. I said a blessing to him and touched his forehead. He made the sign of the cross.

Well, for Mario, and for me, and for John and Lydia, and for Matthew and Lydia and Percy, and for the Cubs, and for Diane and Jason and Copper and Faith and Caleb and for me, there WILL be a tomorrow. Yes!

Just HAD to have a final word…because I believe fervently affirmation is absent too often. As I came to the exit station I asked for the supervisor. He was unavailable, so I told Catherine, the cashier, “Please tell your supervisor that Mario Romo was my driver. Tell your supervisor, Mario is, in the very least on a 1-10, a 12.

She didn’t smile; she beamed, “So rare to hear good things in our routine world. I will convey your thoughts. Mario is one of our best…our very best.”

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Living The Life Of A Seven-Year-Old

Just a note. Unexpected, yet how special. It came from a great cousin, David Kottkamp. He and his wife, Cass and two friends went to Diamond and Crater Lakes. Their friends loved to fish, so they stopped at Diamond Lake. Then David said being at Diamond Lake made him think of my father, Henry Miller, who loved Diamond Lake. He was right.

And in acknowledging how special he was to send me the picture and comment, my mind raced to the summer of 1947. Something in me brought joy when thinking of “then.” I want to share it…and invited you to “go back” to something that happened…a way to bring the past back to life. Nothing wrong with that.

Oh my goodness, David. Your memory is better than impressive. What times Dad and Mom and I had on Diamond Lake. YES, it was our favorite. A few short clips.

Dad used to be miffed when he and Mom went out; I was taking a nap in the cabin. We always rented a boat. I remember the head of Diamond Lake Boat Rental and guided fishing was some guy named Foxx, who had the world’s largest hands. Hey, a 7 year-old has an imagination. Anyway my father would troll some blades and a worm. Mom would troll a very small black fly. SHE caught all the fish. Dad refused to switch poles with her! And Mom couldn’t have cared less. That was the only time ever she went with us to fish. Marilyn was too young; she may have been babysat, David, by your sister, Marie???

Then I was running on a wooden dock and got a really large sliver in my foot. There was a doctor there who removed it. I thought they’d put me on IR, but Dad said that would never happen. Not his son! So they signed me and Dad up for a guided fishing trip on Diamond Lake. Best medicine in the world.

I had never held a fly rod before, was clueless on how to reel it, because my stomach always got in the way. EVERYONE was catching fish. I never did. Time to reel in, I had trouble doing that. Mr. BIG HANDS helped me and whoa. I had on a very large rainbow…never knew it…may have been on for 30 minutes. Geesh. In that moment you might have given me the middle name of Clueless.

Then, the classic that may sneak into one of my novels sometime. Dad and I were trolling very early in the morning, was foggy and windy, only to swirl the fog but not to chase it away. We went to the south rim of the lake, hadn’t been there before. We were trolling very small wobblers made in Canada. I mean, really small. It was windy but Dad managed to keep the boat pretty straight. Then, without warning, which is always how it goes, or at least how I tell it, a fish about ripped Dad’s pole out of his hand. THE BIGGEST TROUT IN THE WORLD WE WERE ABOUT TO CATCH.

Remember, I had a rather hyperbolic imagination. I had never netted a trout before and immediately I worried [one of my specialties] if the fish would fit in the net?

The fish ran and ran, almost spooling Dad’s line. Then we’d go back toward the fish and regain line.

This went on for at least 15 minutes—that’s not an exaggeration!

Then we were right on top of MR. TROUT.

I looked down, slammed my net on the bottom of the boat. Dad said nothing. I didn’t dare.

MR. TROUT was a tree stump! The “running and dashing” was simply the wind pushing us away from the stump he snagged.

Ah, David. See what you do? I LOVE IT!

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May Fear Never Win

My fear never loses its presence, but it does lose its power. Not exceptionally there are times when to me Good Friday seems to be more than one day and Easter only one worship.

Today, though, my world, tears not abating, found ANY fears I have get completely overwhelmed with the link below. I listened to this link before entering worship. When the Senior Minister, during the processional, tapped me on the shoulder, strengthened and faithed by the link, I was in such better shape. And now, almost noon, I’m even better. Nothing more I want to say. What I want to do is share the link, and before you listen, please be silent unto yourself and thank God who is never not present. The link is “The Prayer,” sung by Celine Dion and Josh Groban. Thanks be to God that Fear never wears a crown of victory. Thank God.

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